January 21, 2005

Site review: Yet Another Linux Blog

Author: Tina Gasperson

You could get in on the start of something big with Yet Another Linux Blog. Right now it's just a blog with a grand total of 25 entries, and an empty forum. But YALB, as I like to call it, provides some oft-updated wisdom and entertaining, if controversial, information about Linux and open source software that will draw a larger audience as word gets out.Ironically, one of the factors that could stop YALB from being a big site is that controversial content.

First a little gossip -- or background, if you will. Derrick Penner is the owner of YALB. He's also the former owner of the now defunct mepislinux.org, a non-official community site for the MEPIS Linux distribution. Penner called it quits with that site after an ugly dispute over political issues unrelated to Linux with the owner of mepislovers.org, the official community site. "The real reason I took down my site was that MEPIS announced it was supporting the U.S. military by giving away its OS free with free support to U.S. military personnel," says Penner. He believes he was censored and felt he didn't need to support a cause that didn't support him.

Penner has not gone out of his way to make it known that he's the blogger behind the content at YALB. At his site he goes by the nickname "devnet" and has the site hosted on a subdomain at sytes.net instead of hosting it on a domain registered in his name, as mepislinux.org and his other site, fatalfame.org, are. The site contains no information that would identify Penner -- no FAQ, no "About Us" page, no credits whatsoever. He does provide a slender thread of identification by posting at YALB links to tutorials he's written for daniweb.com under the "TKS" alias he used at mepislinux.org and mepislovers.org. He provides another clue to his identity in a post about his experience with installing MEPIS when he writes, "I was a hardcore MEPIS enthusiast for most of the year last year ... even had a site dedicated entirely to the Linux desktop and SimplyMEPIS," though he doesn't mention that site by name. He told NewsForge that he keeps his identity quiet because "I like the feel of things like that." He compares it to his IRC scripting days back in the mid '90s when "no one cared if you were male or female ... only that you did your part to chip in."

Regardless of Penner's past community issues, YALB is good because it showcases Penner's writing talent as he posts useful Linux tips and tricks and engaging editorials that draw the reader in and stir an emotional reaction to the content. Both his style and the content he chooses are down-to-earth enough to appeal to brand-new Linux converts, the OS-curious, and experts alike. Though hardcore geeks might find more to pick on, they're still reading it.

However, certain decisions Penner makes about content could stymie his efforts to attract visitors. One recent post got a lot of attention when it was picked up by some popular Linux news sites. "Why Open Source Isn't Succeeding," an editorial Penner wrote to illustrate the problems he believes corporations create when they adopt open source software but fail to support it, brought the ire of many who hold conflicting opinions. Some dubbed the article a troll, and criticized Penner for what they called a lack of understanding regarding open source software and the GPL.

"I have a different outlook on things, and I'm not really afraid to voice my opinion," Penner told NewsForge. Yet Penner seemed to backtrack a little in a Part II followup where he wrote that even though the title seemed like FUD, it really wasn't.

Penner doesn't need to do things like this to attract visitors to YALB; in fact, he may even repel those visitors if he continues in the same vein. That would be a shame, because he's got the raw material to put together some good content and create Yet Another interactive Linux site; one that might actually stand a little taller than some of the myriad options out there now. For example, Penner wrote a series of posts regarding his trials with several different distros in an effort to find the best one for his wife (whom he refers to as "Mrs. Devnet" and "the quintessential Windows user"). He could expand on those posts and have a collection of articles that would be a great resource for a large portion of his potential audience.

Penner also has a few tips that are worth sharing, like how to set up an old computer as a Linux-based firewall, or how to reinstall Windows without losing your applications and settings. Combine that with his easy-to-read editorials and frequent updates to the site, and in a few weeks of regular visits, YALB could end up as one of your favorite stops on the Linux content route.


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